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State Higher Ed Merger

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Students at graduation ceremony.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Students at graduation ceremony. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Students whose Connecticut public colleges and universities are coming under new management need not worry that the reorganization will directly affect them this fall, according to the system’s new leader.

Michael Meotti, the interim president of the new Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education, says work to consolidate the governing boards of four state universities and 12 community colleges is under way and will continue over the next several months.
No appointments have been made yet to that new 19-member board, but the old boards remain in place through December on a transitional basis to govern the community colleges and Eastern, Western, Central and Southern Connecticut state universities.
Almost 95,000 students attend the schools. The online Charter Oak State College will also be governed by the new regents.

Meotti said the colleges and universities are trying to absorb millions in budget cuts _ as is the University of Connecticut, which is not part of the reorganization _ and that’s sure to affect students and staff. However, he said, they shouldn’t see any differences in the short term due to the management consolidation.

“There will always be change and since campuses are places that prepare people for the future and careers in a changing world, campuses become places of lots of change. But the reorganization itself is not going to make any difference tomorrow, the day after or the week after,” Meotti said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and top legislators successfully pushed the General Assembly in its recent legislative session to approve the higher education management consolidation, saying it will save millions of dollars in the long run.

They say it will also make Connecticut’s higher education system more efficient and able to respond more quickly to business and academic trends with new degree programs and student services.

The new law that went into effect July 1 eliminates the Department of Higher Education and merges management of the Connecticut State University system with the community colleges and Charter Oak.

The old boards are still holding their meetings and making the decisions that dictate the day-to-day operations on the campuses, but the Board of Regents will have the authority to later overturn any decisions it thinks aren’t practical or possible under the reorganization.

“Our goal is to be able to work out this transition period in a way that there’s no reason to have the Board of Regents overturn anything,” Meotti said.

The reorganization hasn’t been without controversy, though. Connecticut community college students and leaders, in particular, have said they worry those institutions might play second fiddle to the four-year schools because their missions are so different and unique.

“That is our major concern, to make sure it does not negatively affect the student experience at community colleges,” said Mary Anne Cox, assistant chancellor of the Connecticut Community College System.

For now, though, their most immediate concern is the same one shared by other Connecticut public universities: how to absorb the impending budget cuts, whether it’s through larger classes, limiting enrollment or cutting offerings.

“As difficult as it is to say, there is no question we will not be able to serve the number of students in the coming year as we did last year,” Cox said.

Meotti said this week he has been talking regularly with the college presidents and other education leaders about details of the transition and budget cuts. He is scheduled to appear Monday before the Connecticut Community Colleges’ board of trustees to offer updates and answer questions, both about the reorganization and budget constraints.

Meotti said that contrary to playing a secondary role under the reorganization, the community colleges are likely to get more of what their students need than ever before because the colleges are linked so closely with other schools.

For instance, recent studies have found that many students in four-year Connecticut public universities are taking classes concurrently at two-year community colleges. That overlap seems to fit the students’ needs, but hasn’t been recognized or fostered as much by education leaders as it should have been, Meotti said.

“We need a focus on understanding the educational pathways from the students’ perspective, not just from an institutional perspective,” he said, adding that under a unified governing board, he believes the community colleges will be less likely to fall into a real or perceived “pecking order” behind the four-year schools.

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